As a 24-year-old, Vaughn hit .267/.346/.424 in 71 games in AA. An elbow strain kept him out of the AA lineup from June 2 through August 6.
I no longer view Vaughn as a potential everyday contributor for the Mets. The move to AA really exposed him. His strikeout rate of 26.5% in AA this year was his highest at any minor league stop, while his walk rate of 8.2% was his lowest. His .156 isolated slugging percentage was his lowest since Savannah and his 6.8% extra-base hit rate exceeded only Savannah (6.7%), and even at that by only one tenth of a percentage point. For reference, the Eastern League had an extra-base hit rate of 7.2%, a strikeout rate of 20.1% and a walk rate of 9%. So, Vaughn hit for below average power, walked at a below average rate and struck out way above AA average. His season line looks better thanks to a .345 batting average on balls in play, his best rate since Savannah, and one he seems unlikely to replicate with consistency against upper level competition.
Again, in 2013, Vaughn displayed extreme platoon splits that have been present in his performance in the last three years. In 2013, he hit .242/.327/.374 in 198 AB against righties and .344/.403/.578 in 64 AB against lefties. In the last three years, through the full-season minor league levels, he has bashed .296/.401/.528 in 409 PA against lefties and .231/.335/.383 in 1047 PA against righties. At this point, it seems extremely unlikely that Vaughn will magically figure out how to hit righties.
Can a Major League team afford to roster a corner outfielder who only hits lefties and does not play centerfield? Sure, straight platoons are possible, still, right? Oakland?
I’m going to write at some moderate length about the Mets’ Sterling Award winners at each level of the farm system. In some cases the choice of player intersects with the team’s best prospect, or one of their best prospects, in others it diverges.
The series starts at the top of the farm, where Rafael Montero earned the AAA Las Vegas 51s Sterling Award.
Montero, who will turn 23, has nearly an extremely rapid rise through the Mets’ minor league system. He began 2011 in the Dominican Summer League and has advanced at least two levels in each of his three minor league seasons, including a four-level summer (DSL, GCL, APP, NYP) in 2011. His rise has been extremely brisk
His 2013 in Numbers
Statistically, therere are two things that matter to me in there. After running strikeout rates of 29% and 27% in advanced-A and AA, his strikeout rate declined to 21.5% in AAA. Meanwhile, his walk rate which was 2.8% in the SAL in 2012, and 3.8% in AA, climbed to a career-high 6.9% in AAA. Basically, he’s headed back to league average (~19.4% k rate and 9.1% walk rate in the PCL this year) in these two crucial markers. Two amazing statistical notes: he did not hit a single batter all year, and was charged with just one wild pitch. Those control metrics can get lost in a focus on walks, but the baserunners and extra bases they give an offense should not be ignored.
Montero is a three-pitch guy, fastball, slider and changeup. As a starter, he’s mostly 92-94 mph with his fastball with outstanding control and the ability to get to both sides of the plate. Note that in the Futures’ game over the summer, he averaged 95 mph for seven fastballs. That’s harder than I’ve ever seen him throw as a starter. Subtracting a mile or two for stamina and control takes him to his standard 93 ish range. It’s a little straight, but again, he can spot up with the pitch to make it play.
In the low minors, his second pitch was his changeup. He had good armspeed on it and just enough movement to miss bats. His slider has come along in the last few years from poor to a weapon in ball to a little below big league average when I saw it in spring training (and for two pitches in the futures game). It was short and flat and that more defined movement is progress from the loopier breaking balls of years’ past. He continued to improve the offering all year.
The Mets wanted to see Montero’s progress with his slider and changeup this year. Mets’ VP of Amateur Scouting and Player Development Paul dePodesta in April, ““His fastball is very advanced right now, but the secondary pitches need to continue to get better.”
If Montero was not dominant overall in AAA, he was in August, when he put up a 1.40 ERA and a 37/6 K/BB (6.2) ratio in 38.2 innings with a 25.8% strikeout rate and a 4% walk rate. He was big league ready when the Mets shut him down to manage the jump in his innings on a year-over-year basis.
In a world where Matt Harvey is not ready to go on Opening Day 2014, Montero really might have a chance to win a spot in the Mets’ starting rotation out of Spring Training behind Jon Niese, Zack Wheeler, Jenrry Mejia and Dillon Gee. He could be a league-average starter in the near term and more if his slider continues to progress past average to plus.
However, keeping Montero down in the minors for about a month will buy the Mets an extra year of control on his services by postponing the date he is eligible for free agency. The smart money is on the Mets signing an extra veteran or two, both to add depth for the duration of the year, and postpone Montero’s big league debut and service time clock in 2014.
Montero was a very strong choice for his award.
Other (Good) Choices:
Picking a single MVP in AAA usually going to be an daunting feat. This year, the Las Vegas 51s used 28 position players and 31 pitchers. That’s pretty standard in AAA. Montero made the third-most starts on the 51s, behind only Matt Fox (20 starts; 4.59 ERA) and Chris Schwinden (28 starts; 5.78 ERA).
Zack Wheeler made 13 starts for Las Vegas with a 3.93 ERA, nearly a full run higher than Montero’s, before his big league promotion. Given that Montero threw 20 more innings than Wheeler, and allowed exactly the same number of both earned and unearned runs, he was better. Wheeler’s reward in 2013 was his big league debut and the beginning of big league money.
Among pitchers, Montero was the clear choice.
Montero faced 363 batters in AAA this year. Only a four position players had that many plate appearances for the 51s: Eric Campbell, Wilmer Flores, Jamie Hoffman and Zach Lutz. Flores at .321/.357/.531 in 463 PA, would have been a deserving candidate too. Like Wheeler, his reward was big league time and big league money. Better to leave the minor league award to a deserving minor leaguer.
The Mets named their Sterling Award winners for the organization as a whole and for each affiliate Friday. But are these guys prospects and potential big leaguers or even good big leaguers?
The Mets handed the organizational hardware to 1B Allan Dykstra, C Kevin Plawecki and RHP Gabriel Ynoa. In this case, Plawecki and Ynoa are prospects who matter.
The Mets started the 22-year-old Plawecki, their supplemental first round pick in the 2012 draft in Savannah, where he hit a loud .314/.390/.494 in a pitcher’s park in 65 games to earn a promotion to advanced-A after the Gnats clinched a first half title. By late May, it was clear, to those inside and outside the system, that he was ready to move. The Mets allowed him for finish the first half in Savannah and attend the SAL All-Star Game in Lakewood before departing for advanced-A and the Florida State League. In the FSL he dealt with various minor injuries including a back and usual catcher maladies like balls that hit him in places that hurt. He hit .294/.391/.392 in advanced-A, with his on-base percentage sustained by 14 HBP in 60 contests.
The good in his offensive game: he rarely strikes out, and he has gap power, regularly stinging balls to left-centerfield.
His walk rate has slipped at each minor league level from 9.9 in Brooklyn to 8.2 in Savannah to 7.9 in Advanced-A. He’s an aggressive hitter who will attack early count fastballs. This approach, combined with a keen understanding of the strike zone and good bat control keeps his strikeout rate way down – to 10.2% between the two a-ball levels this year. Both his extra-base hit rate (11% -> 6.7%) and his home run rate (2.1% ->0.85) dropped when he was promoted from Savannah to St. Lucie. There’s enough bat here to play catcher in the big leagues, but the way in which his power numbers dropped off at advanced-A is a little concerning.
Plawecki’s defense is fine. He’s an adequate receiver who worked on his game calling and understanding his pitchers. I thought his arm was the weakest part of his game, and he still threw out 31% of opposing runners in the SAL, although that slipped to 27% in the FSL in 45 attempts. He had a tendency to leave throws high and to the first base side of second. When pitchers struggle in the same way, they talk about being too fast with their front side and leaving their arm behind. Plawecki needs to make sure he stays mechanically sound on every throw; he just does not have the kind of natural arm where he can throw out professional runners when he is out of sync.
In 2013, when Major League catchers averaged .245/.310/.388, Plawecki looks like a big leaguer to me. His ceiling right now looks like a solid everyday catcher because I have not seen the in-game power to declare him a star. Even if he’s a low-power guy, his strike zone awareness and bat control will keep him employed in the big leagues. I am concerned however with the decline in his in-game power in 2013 and his very gentle erosion in walk rates as he has moved up the ladder. Double-A will be a big test for him in 2014.
Ranked #43 on last Winter’s Top 41 prospect list (yeah, I miscounted), Ynoa had an excellent 2013 at age 20 in the South Atlantic League and has pulled himself comfortably inside the Mets’ Top 20 prospects approaching the 2014 season.
Including the SAL playoffs, the 20-year-old finished with a 2.57 ERA in 150.34 innings over 24 starts with 115 strikeouts and 18 (!) walks. In rate terms that’s a 3% walk rate and a 19.3% strikeout percentage.
He’s a three-pitch guy with fastball, slider and changeup. His fastball hangs around MLB average sitting going 91-95, sitting 92-93 on a good night and 91-93 later in outings. He can work to both sides of the plate. With solid outfield defense patrolling expansive Grayson Stadium behind him, he did well attacking hitters. He has feel for the changeup. Gnats’ manager Luis Rojas thought that Ynoa’s slider made major strides in 2013. One scout who saw Ynoa in the second half told me he saw “three MLB pitches there.” I don’t know if the movement on any of his offerings is above average, but his fastball command is above average.
Ynoa has good size at 6’2″ and he’s filled out a little from his listed 160 lbs. He’s not huge by the standards of modern baseball players, but he’s big enough that his rotation is fairly easy, and he’s been relatively durable at a young age.
Ynoa’s ceiling right now is as a rotation regular. That’s a nice prospect who will start 2014 in advanced-A.
I examined Dykstra when he won the Eastern League’s MVP award. The cliff notes version: the 26-year-old hit .274/.436/.503 with 21 homers, 102 walks and 123 strikeouts in 122 games for the Binghamton Mets. There’s absolutely no reason from a scouting or statistical perspective to think that he is better than Ike Davis or Lucas Duda, both of whom performed at the same level or better, in AA at much younger ages. It’s nice that he hit, and he was more valuable in AA than Eddie Kunz. He’s not part of a winning Mets future.
The Mets added Wilfredo Tovar to the active roster today to take Ruben Tejada’s spot.
Tovar, who turned 22 in August, is a very gifted defender. He’s a little dude, listed at 5’10, 160lbs, with outstanding body control. His reactions are quick and movements agile while his hands are fluid and arm strong enough to make plays from the hole. He’s really, really fun to watch defensively. The errors I saw him make in a-ball were mostly of focus, where he kicked an easy play when he lost focus rather than anything he couldn’t do.
Sure enough, his error totals, admittedly, a wildly imprecise metric for defense, have declined on an annual basis from 17 in 94 games in Savannah in 2011, to 18 in 118 games in A+/AA in 2012 to just nine in 128 games in 2013 in Binghamton. On a rate basis, that’s one error every 5.5 games in 2011, every 6.6 games in 2012 and one every 14.2 games in 2013.
At the plate, Tovar hit .263/.323/.340 in 486 plate appearances in AA on a .287 BABIP. His offensive game is al about making contact and drawing a few walks. Despite a career-high four home runs in 2013, he will have as little power as any player on a big league roster. In AA this year, he struck out at just a 10% rate and walked at a 6.8% clip. The Eastern League averaged a 9% walk rate and a 20% strikeout rate. So, compared to his peers, Tovar struck out at half the league average rate, and walked at 75% of the average rate.
Nice shortstop defense, lots of soft contact and a walk rate that in the big leagues might be 60% of average, will keep Tovar above replacement level right away.
The Mets plan to platoon Tovar with Omar Quintanilla. This should help both players. In AA this year, Tovar hit .292/.361/.375 in 108 PA vs. LHP for a .736 OPS, a 92 point improvement over his work against RHP. Quintanilla has hit .237/.333/.304 against RHP and an anemic .197/.244/.250 in 82 PA vs. LHP in the big leagues this year. Tovar is certainly an improvement over Quintanilla against lefties for now. This week and a half in the big leagues will be a nice introduction for Tovar, who will be around in the next few years whenever the Mets need help at either middle infield position.
In the ninth inning last night, with the Mets down 4-1, I tucked my phone in my pocket and headed to the grocery store to pick up some breakfast essentials (granola, Honey Nut Cheerios, bananas, and almond milk) and ice cream. I saw Josh Satin’s game winner just after scooping up bananas. That’s Satin pictured at right as a Savannah Sand Gnat in 2009.
The Mets put together a remarkable comeback by as anonymous a group of major leaguers as possible.
Eight Mets batted in the team’s 9th inning. As a group, these eight had a combined 4.9 fWAR in 2013 and 2.5 fWAR for their careers. Six of the eight Mets who batted in the frame had fewer than 385 career plate appearances. The only ones who had more than 400, and both have more than 1,111, are Lucas Duda and Omar Quintanilla, who both have negative career fWAR totals. Six of the eight had a career fWAR total at or below 0.5.
This group is not composed of really young players either. Six of the eight are 26 years old or older, as of September 18. Only Juan Centeno, making his first big league start at age 23 and Juan Lagares, who made his MLB debut earlier this year at age 24, are young enough to project significant performance improvements as they age.
Lets go to the annotated play-by-play for more. Italicized comments are mine, obviously.
1. Andrew Brown walks.
—- Andrew Brown is playing with his third MLB organization in three years. The 29-year-old’s total MLB line is .230/.290/.415 in 292 PA over 119 games. This 2013 season is the first time he has exceeded 130 MLB PA in a year.
2. Lucas Duda strikes out swinging
— In a slow-motion battle for the 2014 first base job, Duda has hit .275/.378/.458 with six home runs, 20 walks and 30 strikeouts in the last 42 games since the Mets recalled him from triple-A on August 25th. Miscast as an outfielder for the last three seasons, Duda has a chance to be a productive, unspectacular MLB first baseman.
– With Juan Lagares batting, wild pitch by Santiago Casilla, Andrew Brown to 2nd.
3. Juan Lagares walks (!)
— It was his 19th walk of 2013 to bring his MLB walk rate to exactly 5%. Fourteen players in MLB have walked between 4.5% and 5.5% of the time and had enough PA to qualify for the batting title, a group that does not include Lagares, who is short on playing time. Nine of the 16 have an wRC+ above 100, making them league average hitters or better. Both Daniel Murphy (102 wRC+) and Marlon Byrd (135 OPS+) fall into the bucket above 100. Lagares’ centerfield defense makes him playable now, but a few more walks would do wonders for his offensive and overall value.
— Zach Lutz pinch hits for Ruben Tejada, who broke his leg on this catch.
— Terrible timing for Tejada, who had the last month of the season to impress Terry Collins/Sandy Alderson/JP Ricciardi and play his way back into the 2014 starting job. I argued on last week’s Mostly Mets Podcast that Tejada had a lot riding on the last month. He still does.
— Sergio Romo replaces Santiago Casilla.
—- Something about the variability of year-to-year relief performance … and wait, what’s that? They’re both really still good. Yup. Sergio Romo has a 4.67 K/BB ratio a 124 ERA+ and a 23.7% strikeout rate. Casilla has a 1.57 K/BB rate, a 156 ERA+ and a 18.9% K rate while allowing only 34 hits in 45.2 innings. Yeah, it was an off-night for both.
4. Zach Lutz doubles to left field. Andrew Brown scores. Juan Lagares to 3rd.
— When Lutz is healthy, he hits. In 23 MLB PA, he’s hit a solid .263/.391/.368. Yeah, I just gave you a batting line over 23 PA.
5. Juan Centeno singles on a ground ball to shortstop Brandon Crawford. Juan Lagares scores. Zach Lutz to 3rd.
– Congratulations to Centeno, who collected his first MLB hit earlier in the game. Both hits were Centeno classics: a grounder on the right side and a flare that Brandon Crawford tracked down on the left side of the diamond. In the minors, that ball probably scoots in to left field, but not in the big leagues against the world’s best defenders at shortstop. Centeno’s ascent to the big leagues is remarkable in that he was a back-up nearly all the way through the minors. He has never played in 60% of his team’s games. Not once. His minor league slugging percentage is .335. But he just kept grinding through at-bats, making contact and playing solid defense behind the plate and worked his way to the big leagues. It’s a good story. He should make a few million bucks playing baseball in his life as he’s just a few more innings from a membership card in the Fraternal Order of Backup Catchers.
6. Matt den Dekker walks. Anthony Recker to second.
— Catcher Anthony Recker had pinch-run for catcher Juan Centeno. It was that kind of inning.
— den Dekker, who had struck out in exactly 33% of his MLB plate appearances (17 of 51) entering this one in the ninth fell down 0-2 in the count and then watched four straight pitches out of the zone. Sergio Romo has walked 12 batters in his 56.1 innings in 2013, a rate of 5%. Those four straight balls out of the zone which put den Dekker on base, and pushed the tying run to third, and the go-ahead run to second, in position to score on a single were awfully important to this inning.
7. Omar Quintanilla flies out to right fielder Hunter Pence.
— Quintanilla, a man who is the major leagues for his defense at short, and a player with a career wRC+ of 53 (!) was asked to pinch-hit for Vic Black. (For a month of John Buck and Marlon Byrd, Vic Black and Dilson Herrera looks better and better.)
8. Josh Satin singles on a line drive to left fielder Gregor Blanco. Zach Lutz scores. Anthony Recker scores. Matt den Dekker to 2nd.
— Of course. Win for the Mets. Fist pumps near the frozen foods! Weird looks from fellow Kroger shoppers for me.
Satin does not have prototypical power at first (.114 ISO), but he works counts, grinds through at bats and hits line drives and can play second or third. He’s also hit .329/.417/.493 in 73 MLB AB against left-handers. That might just be enough to earn himself part of a platoon job at first base in 2014 with the Duda/Ike Davis winner.
Is there a larger lesson here? In the broadest possible terms, walks are good for an offense. A team that walks three times in an inning should score a few runs.
As far as the Mets future? There was one guy who participated in the 9th inning rally who looks to have a starting spot nailed down for Opening Day 2014: Juan Lagares. Satin and Duda are fighting to be part of a firstbase time share. Quintanilla is a replacement level SS, who would be a fine bench player, or AAA depth piece. Brown, Centeno, Recker, Lutz and den Dekker might be fighting for bench jobs.
And this group fashioned as enjoyable an inning as possible. It’s a weird game.
Over the weekend, on Sunday night to be specific, the Binghamton Mets announced that the Eastern League had named manager Pedro Lopez the Manager of the Year and 1B Allan Dykstra the AA League’s MVP.
From a value perspective with the bat, Dykstra is a worthy choice. Over the full season, he was the most productive hitter on the League’s best team. (I suspect had he played, and hit well in August, this would have been Cesar Puello’s award.) The 26-year-old Dykstra hit .274/.436/.503 with 22 doubles, 21 homruns, 102 walks and 123 strikeouts in 122 games. It’s a modest credit to the award’s voters that they looked past Dykstra’s sub-.300 batting average to pick the guy leading the League in on-base percentage and slugging, (and walks, who was fourth in RBI and tied for fifth in homeruns).
In advanced metrics, Dykstra was #1 in the Eastern League in both wOBA (.423) and wRC+ (163).
This was the third go-round in AA for Dykstra, who hit .267/.389/.474 with 22 doubles and 19 homeruns at age 24 in Binghamton in 121 games in 2011. The major change for him in the last two three years statistically is that he moved his walk rate from a strong 14.5% in 2011 to an extremely discipline 20.9% in 2013. His power output was similar.
The Mets acquired Allan Dykstra for Eddie Kunz in a swap of disappointing first round draft picks in March of 2011. The Padres plucked Dykstra 23rd overall in 2008 out of Wake Forest while the Mets grabbed Kunz 42nd out of Oregon State in 2007. Kunz was released by the Padres this spring after a 6.35 ERA in 21 games last year with a 12/20 K/BB. By any measure, whether Dykstra ever becomes a real big leaguer, the Mets have already won the trade.
Toby Hyde, Mets Minor League Blog:
So, can Dykstra be a useful big leaguer?
Here is a sampling of questions I received over email and twitter this weekend.
By email, Mark asked of Dykstra: “could he be the mets version evan gattis? great obp. if he is thank you eddie kunz”
As far as Mark’s question, Gattis is a few months younger than Dykstra and despite his wonderful story is now down to .238/.298/.469 in 80 games in the big leagues. Since July 1, his power has disappeared as he’s hit .215/.263/.280 in 27 games with a two-week trip to the DL and a short trip to AAA Gwinnett over the weekend. As far as profile, Dykstra is a higher walk rate guy with less raw power than Gattis, but Gattis’ case provides a great warning about counting on guys who make their MLB debuts at age 26 or later.
As far as J.D.’s question, will Dykstra get big league time after the Eastern League playoffs end, barring more Mets’ injuries, the answer is: “wildly unlikely.”
Why? Dykstra is big, 6’5″, 240 pounds and old for the Eastern League. His bat is slow. He’s succeeded on strength and approach in the minors. He’s a well below average runner limited to first or DH duties. He’s been a similar hitter for three years, although his walk rate has climbed more recently. He still strikes out in over 25% of his AA plate appearances. Ask Kirk Nieuwenhuis what happens to high strikeout guys in the upper minors when they get to the big leagues. Plugging Dykstra’s 2013 numbers into the handy Minor League Equivalency Calculator yields an MLB line of .197/.329/.342 in 404 AB. That’s not playable at first base. Basically, he would run into some balls, but MLB pitchers, and their fastballs, would eat him up.
Put simply, I believe Dykstra will not be an everyday player in the big leagues. Perhaps, he can be a bench bat, but teams rarely carry true 1B-only bench bats.
Now for the roster considerations. First, the Mets already have a better version of Dykstra playing first in Lucas Duda who crushed AA and AAA at age 24. Second, Dykstra is not on the Mets’ 40-man roster, which is currently full. The Mets could certainly make space in the short term by moving Matt Harvey to the 60-day DL for example. I do not believe Dykstra would be eligible to be a minor league free agent until after the 2014 season. Adding Dykstra now only limits the Mets’ choices in terms of adding other players this off-season, and of course protects him from the Rule 5 draft.
Dykstra has certainly earned a promotion to AAA for 2014. However, AA success at age 26, and the way he has done it, do not indicate that he is a big league piece moving forward.
Yesterday, in voting by the South Atlantic managers, front offices and media, Gabriel Ynoa was selected as the a-ball League’s Most Outstanding Pitcher and his Pitching Coach, Frank Viola earned Coach of the Year status.
Ynoa is third in the SAL in ERA (2.72) and first in wins (15). He has the lowest walk rate (3%) among qualified pitchers in the SAL and has fanned 19.6% of opposing batters.
Ynoa, who turned 20 on May 26th, is one of the Mets’ better pitching prospects in the low minors. He has a solid pitcher’s frame at 6’2″, with room to add strength as he matures. He has enough fastball to pitch in the big leagues, sitting recently 90-92 although he can touch higher. His secondary offerings include a changeup and a slider. He has feel for both. The changeup began the year as his best secondary offering although recently scouts have told me they think his breaking ball can get to Major Leauge average as well. Ynoa, if everything breaks right, could profile as a league average starter in the big leagues. He’s smart and has figured out to attack hitters in spacious Grayson Stadium.
Frank is just the best. The former Cy Young Award winner attacks coaching with an infectious enthusiasm and has made just about every pitcher he’s coached better. It’s a good record.
In addition to picking up Dilson Herrera, a nice second base prospect, for Marlon Byrd and John Buck, the Mets added RHP Vic Black, a former supplemental first round pick who’s basically ready to step right into the team’s bullpen. This is a nice pickup as well. The Mets added potentially, six years of Black in the bullpen and a potential league average 2B for the cost of one month each of Byrd and Buck and a little cash.
Black made his big league debut this past July, and lasted four innings over three outings in the Pirates’ very good bullpen. He struck out three and walked two.
Go ahead and pencil him in for a spot in the Mets’ bullpen next year. Per Brooks Baseball, “he has relied primarily on his Fourseam Fastball (97mph), also mixing in a Curve (83mph). He also rarely throws a Slider (84mph) and Sinker (94mph). “
Visually, his repetoire is represented at right.
He’s been excellent over the minors’ top two levels this year in AAA and last year in AA. In Indianapolis this year with the Pirates, he’s fanned 63 and walked 21 batters in 46.2 innings. That’s a strikeout rate of 33% and a walk rate of 11%. Walks have always been an issue for Black, he issued free passes to 12% of opposing batters in 2011 in the SAL.
Based on game logs, I believe that I saw Black throw to eight batters in the SAL in 2011, yielding four hits and a two walks, with a strikeout. I would be lying if I told you I remembered much about that outing.
Black missed almost all of the 2010 season with shoulder problems which he discussed obliquely here.
In a classic Spring Training piece, he attributed a velocity gain to yoga. Hey, it’s possible. The Mets’ Noah Syndergaard thought off season yoga helped him get ready for this year.
The Pirated drafted Black with the 49th pick in the 2009 draft out of Dallas Baptist University. The Mets took a flyer on Black late, in the 41st round in 2006, but he did not sign, a wise financial move.
Does adding Black make the Mets-Pirates trade lopsided? Hardly. Black was not going to slip into the Pirates’ bullpen and throw important innings for them in 2013. If Byrd or Buck deliver a big homerun in October to help the Pirates win a game or even a playoff series, Pittsburgh can be very content. And when Black is throwing in the bullpen in Queens in 2014 and beyond and Herrera heads to Port St. Lucie to start 2014, the Mets too can be pleased.
On Tuesday, the Mets traded John Buck and Marlon Byrd, two players who have zero value to the team beyond the end of the 2013 season, and cash, to the Pirates, for minor league infielder Dilson Herrera, a player who might be worth something in the future, and a player to be named later. That on its face is a win.
Byrd, who will be 36 in three days is enjoying the best season of his career, with career-highs in homeruns (21), OPS (.848) and OPS+ 136. The Pirates, who just placed Starling Marte on the disabled list needed an outfielder. Byrd will slide right into their everyday lineup now. And eventually, when Marte returns, forcing Jose Tabata to the bench.
On the catching side, the Pirates have run with Russell Martin and two guys below replacement level in Tony Sanchez and Michael McKenry. John Buck, who can pop a home run a few times a month, despite having few other virtues as a player, will give fortify their catching depth.
In exchange for two guys whose contracts ended on the final day of the 2013 regular season, the Mets added a nice second base prospect in Herrera. The 19-year-old Herrera is a little dude – listed at 5’10″, 150, who’s played the entire year in the South Atlantic League with the Pirates’ affiliate, the West Virginia Power, who I saw last weekend. Herrera has played this season as the 16th youngest player in the SAL and the 12th youngest hitter and held more than held his own, batting .265/.330/.421 with 27 double and 11 home runs in 109 games to go with 37 walks and 110 strikeouts. (He just missed the cut for my post-season SAL All-Star Ballot.) Herrera has real bat speed. Leading off the second inning in game one of a double-header last Saturday, Gnats starter Tim Peterson tried to sneak a fastball by Herrera who blasted it over the leftfield wall for a homerun.
Although I did not have a stop watch on him, I believe he’s above average as a runner. He looks like he moves well, but he does not steal bases yet – he’s 11 for 17 this year – and did not take aggressive leads. He’s made all the plays I have seen him be asked to make defensively at second base.
There were some reports suggesting that Herrera is a shortstop. At this time, that is false. He played 59 games at third in the Venezuelan Summer League in 2011 and has played second exclusively since in his subsequent 163 professional games. I suspect that his range and arm would be challenged greatly at short, but I wonder if the Mets will still give him a look at shortstop in instructional league this fall to increase their options moving forward. For example, in the 2012 second round, the Mets drafted Matt Reynolds, who had mostly played second and third at Arkansas and stuck him at short as a professional, where he has been solid.
I’m looking forward to seeing Herrera a little bit in the final weekend and playoffs for the Gnats and will have a better picture of his game after a steady week watching him.
As a return for four weeks of Byrd and Buck, Herrera, who could turn into an above-average regular at second if everything breaks right, plus a player to be named later, is a very good haul for Byrd and Buck.
Herrera photo from Flickr user Bryan (begreen90).
It didn’t sound like much. It was just a bruise. He could play through it. Then it was only supposed to keep him out for a week or so. And yet, a bruised left hand and thumb, which ultimately kept him off the field for a month, has provided the narrative shape for Brandon Nimmo’s 2013 season.
Nimmo, the Mets’ first round pick in the 2011 draft, was a consensus Top 10 prospect in the Mets system entering 2013. Baseball America placed him #3, Baseball Prospectus #9, MLB.com #4, John Sickels #8 and he was #5 right here.
The 20-year-old began the year on a tear, hitting .424/.513/.576 through the season’s first 17 games in Historic Grayson Stadium, a tough stadium on hitters in general and downright hostile to left-handed power. Then, in Lakewood April 20th or 21st, he bruised his hand.
Nimmo tried to play through it, but could not. In the next six games, he was 1-for-27 (.042) with 10 strikeouts in 27 plate appearances, a strikeout rate of 37%.
At the end of April, the Mets decided to put Nimmo on the disabled list to allow his hand to heal. A week after he was placed on the DL, Gnats manager Luis Rojas told me, “It’s nothing major. We’re checking it out closely. Right now, we’re just communicating with the doctors, the hand specialists in Savannah and the doctor in New York. They’re gonna set a progression that’s going to take a couple of days. It’s nothing major. He should be back maybe in five days.”
That optimistic prediction was off. Nimmo did not return to the field until May 28, exactly a month after his last game on April 29. When he returned, he did not hit. From May 28 through July 21, he hit .228/.343/.305 with 76 strikeouts in 234 plate appearances, a strikeout rate of 32.5%. His isolated slugging percentage dipped to .077.
August came, and Nimmo started hitting again. In 25 games this month, Nimmo has hit .354/.514/.456 with 24 walks and 24 strikeouts in 105 plate appearances. That’s a 22.9% walk and strikeout rate. His isolated slugging percentage is back over .100 in August.
Nimmo refused to say he was not healthy in June and July when he was on the field and playing. “I try to not make any excuses. I played. I felt like I was good enough to play. I’m not going to make an excuse for numbers. We just went through some rough times, and that’s baseball.” However, he played all of June with physio tape on his wrist. By the middle of July, in time for the All-Star Futures’ game, he had weaned himself from the tape as his hand began to feel better.
And yes, Nimmo concedes that by the end of August, his hand is in a different place than it was in preceding months, “Yeah, I do feel better now. I just feel more normal. Obviously, this past month has been great, and I’ve been definitely felt much better.”
When Nimmo returned from the disabled list, it appeared as though he did not trust his hands. This led to a cascade where he started landing with his front foot too close to home plate in his stride. By July, he was working to correct it.
Gnats manager Luis Rojas explains, “What he was doing, striding too close, and it was causing him to get locked middle-in and inside. Now, he’s more fluid with his hips going through the zone and keeping his bat longer.”
Nimmo feels the difference, “I was getting into a little bit of a bad habit of closing myself off. And I still do a little bit. But by shortening my step a little bit more, it keeps me a little bit more even at the plate. The more even I can be, the better I can get to the outside pitch, the better I can get to the inside pitch.”
According to Mets’ Hitting Coordinator Lamar Johnson, “The next step for him is just to get a consistent swing. Right now, he’s showing that swing sometimes, but he’s gotta get it a little more consistent and that’s the maturity part of it. “
Young hitters develop on two separate, but related paths. First, there’s a mechanics path where each hitter learns his swing and makes tweaks along the way. Second, there’s a more mental path where the hitter learns which pitches to swing at when. In essence, it’s operationalizing the mechanics. They are related, but independent in a way. A hitter who has a perfected his own swing cannot connect with a slider a foot outside. Nor can he cannot with a fat fastball if he chooses not to swing.
Johnson sees a better Nimmo in this respect. “He’s starting to mature and learn what he can do and what he can’t do on certain pitches. Just sitting here watching him the last three games [August 23-24] has shown me some things I didn’t see in early April: he’s taking that ball away from him now and driving it that way, before he was feeling for it a little bit. Now you can see he’s learning his swing and what he can do and that’s important – it’s the first step in becoming a good hitter: knowing what you can do and what you can’t do. He’s hitting the ball where it’s pitched.”
Where most young hitters need to be taught to lay off pitches, Nimmo was the reverse. Rojas again, “Now he’s being more aggressive. He’s got excellent strike zone discipline, sometimes, he tends to get a little too timid, but the last two weeks he’s been ready. He’s seeing the ball very well out of the pitcher’s hands. It was fun to watch him on the roadtrip.
“That’s the beautiful part of development where you see a guy improve in the little areas that he needs to improve. That’s one of the areas where we want Brandon to keep working on. He has the strike zone discipline – he came with that package – but at the same time, with that pitch recognition and discipline, we want him to be aggressive with the pitch that he can drive. And that’s what he’s done the last two weeks.”
Nimmo, ever the good student, echoes Rojas’ words in describing his slightly revised attitude at the plate, “It’s just controlled aggression. You’re just trying to get a good pitch to hit, but trying not expand the zone. All you’re trying to do is get a pitch you can drive.”
While talking about being more aggressive, Nimmo’s walk rate in August of 22.9% is his highest in any month this year, while his strikeout rate of 22.9% nearly matches his April rate (22.4%).
Nimmo has worked through a frustrating injury. He has addressed both sides of hitting: the physical and the mental, adjusting his swing mechanics when he fell into bad habits, and working on learning when and how to be aggressive and selective. That, as his manager said, is development.
Nimmo’s 2013 in Table Form
|Through April 21||.424||.513||.576||1.089||80||10||14||12.5||17.5||.152|
|May 28-July 31||.228||.343||.305||.648||234||31||76||13.2||32.5||.077|